Following this afternoon's practice, 49ers running back LaMichael James met with the media during player availability. He was asked about his transition from rookie to "veteran" and particularly his work as a punt returner. Last year, James was given a preseason crack at the punt returner role, but he struggled mightily with the Candlestick Park winds. He eventually took over the kick returner job during the season, but he never got a shot at the punt returner role during the season.
Since those struggles, James has been extremely active in his efforts to improve as a punt returner. Earlier in the afternoon, Coach Harbaugh indicated James had put in some serious work to improve. He mentioned that James often spent 20-30 minutes a day on the Jugs machine following practice. James mentioned how it was frustrating at times, but he was not one to give up.
James said that he has gotten more comfortable handling returns, working on a variety of drills to test himself, including one that tests his ability to catch punts when he doesn't see it coming off the foot. Given how quickly things happen in a game, and how the Candlestick wind can mess with a player, every drill is obviously of the utmost importance.
James is confident he can be the team's punt returner. Someone asked about handling the different wind of Candlestick, as Santa Clara winds are bit more calm. He felt he got some good work last Friday in greater wind. We'll find out just how good things are when he is back deep on punt returns this Thursday against the Broncos. One more thing to add to the list of what we'll be watching closely.